Tag Archives: Technology

Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.
Retail Food Safety Forum

How Technology is Elevating Food Safety Practices & Protocols

By Francine L. Shaw
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Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.

Technology is elevating food safety practices and protocols, and will help reduce or eliminate food safety incidents and outbreaks in the future. However, a major challenge will be getting food businesses to adopt these tech tools. Food service companies have been slower than other industries to adopt technology, preferring instead to do things “the way they’ve always done them”— often using antiquated pen and paper systems to track food safety standards. Often, food business owners are worried about the cost and implementation of tech solutions, fearing that they’ll be too expensive and/or complex for them to manage.

Something has to change in our industry. Food recalls are on the rise—recently with a huge nationwide romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak and recall. Even a big name packaged breakfast cereal was recently recalled for possible contamination.

America’s food industry has a $55.5 billion safety problem annually, as reported by Fortune magazine (This information was gathered from a 2015 study by Robert Scharff,  an associate professor at Ohio State University, who estimated that foodborne illnesses cost $55.5 billion per year in medical treatment, lost productivity, and illness-related mortality in the United States). This includes foodborne illnesses at restaurants and retailers, food recalls, and other food safety issues.

The CDC reports that 48 million Americans become sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States. Therefore, investing in food safety is one of the smartest things that food service organizations can do. The expense, time and energy necessary to implement—or elevate—your organization’s food safety protocols won’t be overwhelming, and it’s crucial to your business’ success.

Foodborne illnesses are expensive and damaging for businesses. Having a foodborne illness incident or outbreak can cost significant money—including decreased revenues, hefty legal fees, potential lawsuits, diminished sales (and loyalty) from guests afraid to visit the (possibly contaminated) restaurant or store, and a damaged reputation that could permanently shut your doors.

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Food safety should be part of every company’s culture. Everyone—on every shift—should be trained in proper food safety protocols. And, since tech solutions have become more accessible and mainstream, more food businesses should adopt and use them.

The latest technologies are elevating the way many food service businesses operate. Not only do these technological tools make food safer, but they can also save restaurants, convenience stores, hotels and other food service companies a tremendous amount of money each year.

Technological solutions enhance food safety protocols and make it faster, more accurate, and more efficient to conduct inventory, auditing, training and keep food safe. Investing in technology is something that all food businesses should do to help boost the health and safety of their establishments.

Nothing will negatively impact your organization’s brand and reputation more than a foodborne illness outbreak. While human error can never be completely eliminated, advancements in technology help minimize the risks. Some innovative developments include:

  • Sensors. Sensors ensure foods are being held at proper temperatures. For instance, centralized, continuous refrigeration monitoring systems signal when temperatures in coolers or freezers rise above safe holding temperatures, eliminating the need to throw away entire coolers or freezers of food due to improperly working units. As a result, businesses can save thousands of dollars (or more) in lost product and potentially save lives by storing cold foods properly.
  • Digital auditing tools. Innovative digital tools can now be used for food companies’ internal auditing systems, which is a more efficient, cost-effective and accurate solution versus the pen and paper methods that are often (and widely) used in the food service industry. Using pen and paper to audit restaurants, hotels, institutions and stores often results in increased labor, time, errors and expenses. Additionally, hard copy records can be hard to organize and access—and it’s extremely difficult to integrate and analyze the data. Digital tools provide more efficient, cost-effective internal auditing systems, with records that are easy to access and analyze.
  • Mobile solutions. The food service industry is comprised of many employees from younger generations (e.g., millennials and Gen Z), and these populations have grown up on their smartphones. Now, food businesses can leverage digital tools that can be used on cell phones and tablets, which is an easy and effective way to engage younger employees. Many companies are providing downloadable apps that enhance the way food service employees conduct inspections, keep temperature logs, conduct training, manage QA forms, access food code information, and more. Critical food safety information can (literally) be at employees’ fingertips.

These (and other!) tech solutions offer significant benefits to food service businesses, including:

  • Boosting operational systems. Digital tools can help with brand protection and quality assurance concerns by optimizing and improving line checks, shift logs, inspections, auditing and other reporting.
  • Improving the bottom line. Investing in technology boosts companies’ operational efficiencies, which has been proven to improve their bottom line. Technology tools can reduce or prevent food spoilage, reduce labor costs and help avoid foodborne illnesses.
  • Reducing fraud. There’s a widespread “pencil whipping” problem in the food service industry, where employees using paper record systems falsify records or “cheat” on their processes. As much as food service leadership wants to deny that “pencil whipping” happens in their organizations, it’s (unfortunately) a fairly common practice in restaurants, convenience stores and other industry businesses. Pencil whipping can result in increased food safety risks, food code violations and other (potentially costly) issues. Digital tools can help reduce or eliminate “pencil whipping” through real-time data collection, and visual records using photos and videos.

While technology has previously been considered to be a luxury, today, digital tools are affordable, widespread and accessible. Technology that can help minimize labor, reduce (or eliminate) foodborne illness risks, and minimize food waste is not an expense, it’s an important investment.

Technology streamlines operations, improves safety protocols, reduces errors, integrates data—and so much more. The benefits are huge. Often, food service owners tell me that they can’t afford the investment, or that they’re overwhelmed about how to find and implement the right system. I reassure them that it’s truly easier than ever to incorporate tech tools into food companies, and it’s one of the smartest things companies can do. Innovative technology tools are critical to keeping foods, consumers and businesses healthy and safe.

Mike Robach

The Future of Food Safety: A Q&A with Cargill’s Mike Robach

By Mahni Ghorashi
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Mike Robach

Continuing on our journey to bring you the successes, best practices, challenges and accomplishments from the very best in this industry, this month I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Robach, vice president, corporate food safety, quality & regulatory for Cargill. Mike joined Cargill in January 2004 to lead the company’s corporate food safety and regulatory affairs programs. In this role, he helps partners innovate and manage risk so they can feel empowered to nourish the world

Mike Robach
Mike Robach, vice president, corporate food safety, quality & regulatory for Cargill

Mike has also worked closely with the USDA and FDA regarding food safety policy, HACCP, and regulatory reform based on science. He serves as chairman of the board of directors of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and is a member of the Institute of Food Technologists and the International Association of Food Protection, among many other organizations dedicated to ensuring safe food and bringing innovative technology into the agricultural industry. He has worked with the World Organization of Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on harmonized animal health and food safety standards.

Mahni Ghorashi: What are the biggest risks to our food safety infrastructure in 2018? What’s keeping you up at night?

Mike Robach: The biggest risks I see have to do with supply chain integrity and how companies implement their systems. Too often we do not have line-of-sight to the origin of the commodities and ingredients that make up our products. With global supply networks it’s important to understand where and from whom you are getting your inputs. There is also a need for food safety capacity building throughout the global food system. Many small and medium companies, along with some large companies, do not have the proper training for their employees to manage a food safety program. We also have an issue with constantly changing regulations that are not uniform from country to country, adding risk to our business.

Ghorashi: What are you most excited about? What’s changing in a good way in the food safety sector?

Robach: I am very excited about the application of new technology to our food safety programs. In-line, real-time testing gives an opportunity to manage our processes and make immediate adjustments to assure process control. This allows us to prevent product that is out of control from reaching the marketplace. Blockchain technology gives us the chance to drive greater transparency throughout the supply chain.

Ghorashi: Let’s talk about regulation. How is the implementation of FSMA going? Do you foresee any challenges with the next phase of implementation?

Check out last month’s Q&A with Frank Yiannas of WalmartRobach: I think FSMA implementation is going okay right now. There’s still a long way to go, and I am always concerned about making sure investigators are applying the rules and regulations in a consistent manner. I see the intentional adulteration rule as an upcoming challenge. It is one thing to conduct a vulnerability assessment and adjust your programs based on the results. It’s another to develop and implement a program that will prevent intentional adulteration as you would to reduce or prevent microbiological contamination.

Ghorashi: If you take a look at the homepage of Food Safety News, all you see is recall after recall. Are transparency and technological advancement bringing more risks to light and are things generally trending towards improvement?

Robach: I believe that food safety management programs are constantly improving and that our food is as safe as it has ever been. However, we still have a lot of work to do. At GFSI, we are continually improving our benchmarking requirements and increasing transparency in the process. We have better public health reporting and our ever-improving analytical technology allows us to detect contaminants at lower and lower levels. The industry is working collaboratively to share best practices and promote harmonized food safety management systems throughout the supply chain.

Ghorashi: What is the number one challenge of securing global supply chains for 2018?

Robach: Knowing and understanding the integrated supply chain. Having knowledge and control of the process from origination to consumption would be ideal. We need the implementation of risk-based, harmonized food safety management systems based on the principles of Codex. Assuring the application of these systems along with properly trained employees to implement these programs would be the first step towards a secure, safe global food system.

Ghorashi: How do international trade deals and the stance of the current administration affect the future of food safety policy?

Robach: International trade deals such as the Trans Pacific Partnership and NAFTA can do a lot for the assurance of safe food around the world and within regions. Making sure that food safety provisions are included in these trade deals can drive the implementation of food safety management systems that will ensure safe food for consumers everywhere. These types of deals should allow us to remove technical barriers to trade by basing the requirements on Codex principles and adhering to the WTO SPS agreement.

Ghorashi: What role is blockchain technology playing in food safety? What are the prospects for the future?

Robach: Blockchain has a role to play in driving more transparency across the integrated supply chain. It can allow companies to show consumers where their food comes from. It can also be used to quickly trace back product in the event of a food safety problem. Still, it’s an enabling technology, not a solution.

Ghorashi: What about CRISPR? How is the food industry starting to respond to this technology from both a policy and GMO screening?

Robach: Gene editing holds great promise and many companies are looking at its potential benefits. However, there is always the policy question on whether or not the use of this type of technology should be labeled. I think the food industry has not done enough to promote the use of technology and how food production has improved over the years. We should let consumers know how we apply science to making food safer, more nutritious and more sustainable. At Cargill we have the vision of being the leader in nourishing the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way.

Ghorashi: What trends are you seeing in food safety processes within food companies? Are they becoming more decentralized? Less? How are they balancing innovation with decades-old food safety practices?

Robach: Through the Global Food Safety Initiative, we have promoted harmonized, risk-based food safety management systems. The GFSI-benchmarked certification programs provide an opportunity for companies to implement consistent food safety programs regardless of where they are in the world. Through the GFSI Global Market Program there’s a tool kit that less sophisticated companies can use as a pathway towards full certification. We are constantly updating the benchmarking requirements to assure they are keeping up with changing science and technology.

Blockchain, Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

Is the Food Industry Ready for Blockchain?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Blockchain, Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

Darin Detwiler will lead a plenary session titled, “Practical Use of Blockchain in Food Safety” at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium | Learn moreOn the heels of the deadly, widespread outbreak of E.coli O157:H7 illnesses linked to romaine lettuce—and 12 years after the infamous spinach outbreak of 2006—the food industry is struggling to find the solution to prevent these outbreaks. “I think it’s indicative that we need to do something different,” said Melanie Nuce, senior vice president, corporate development & innovation at GS1 US, during a panel discussion about blockchain at the 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain conference earlier this month. The panel, led by Darin Detwiler, assistant dean and director, regulatory affairs of food and food industry at Northeastern University, delved into the strengths and weaknesses of blockchain, along with industry readiness and acceptance.

In its most basic form, the technology would allow for the addition of information from every step of the supply chain, from manufacturing to packaging to distribution to retail, and would incorporate elements such as auditing, inspection, batch information, certification of auditors, preventive control plans, HACCP information, and allergen identification.

“Blockchain could be the death of the document.” Simon Batters, Lloyd’s Register

Strengths

The increased demand for transparency and traceability could be one of the biggest drivers for the adoption of blockchain. “[Blockchain] offers us the technology for traceability,” said Simon Batters, vice president of technology solutions at Lloyd’s Register. “It allows us to have an immutable record of a transaction; it won’t solve the food safety conundrum overnight—it’s part of the tool kit that we need.”

The fact that the food supply chain consists of millions of transactions, which could not be tampered with under blockchain, while the data could be used as reference points and for verification—those are strengths. However, Batters pointed out, there should be restrictions on who has permission to write the code and who has access to putting the information into a chain.

The technology would also enable smart contracts whereby shipments wouldn’t be finalized if they didn’t meet the conditions of a supplier, for example. “All parties to a transaction have a view to the entire chain at the same time,” said Nuce. “You have real time visibility. This democratizes that.”

Kathleen Wybourn, director, food safety solutions at DNV GL, calls blockchain “the birth certificate for food.” From a consumer standpoint, it would provide information on a product’s origin—and these days, consumers—especially millennials—are very interested in the story of food from farm to fork.

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
The blockchain panel, led by Darin Detwiler, Director: Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry, Northeastern University featured (left to right) Kathy Wybourn, Director, Food Safety Solutions, DNV GL; Simon Batters,
Vice President of Technology Solutions, Lloyd’s Register and Melanie Nuce, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development & Innovation, GS1 US.

Weaknesses and Threats

The panel pointed out several areas of improvement (and unknowns that must be answered) before blockchain can be taken to the next level in the food industry.

  • Although the technology could aid in faster transaction times, as the size of the ledger gets larger, and it will become more difficult to manage.
  • Industry involvement: “If you don’t get 100% participation, it’s not going to be successful,” Nuce said. “To have true trace back, everyone has to participate.”
  • Blockchain platforms: Will they be able to interact and share data? What type of blockchain architecture is necessary for this?
  • Poor architecture
  • Need a better grasp on the type of data being used and how it delivers value
  • What impact will it have on the role of certification bodies?
  • Politics and the competitive element: Will certain parties seek to control this space?
  • Will the culture shift be a roadblock?
Melanie Nuce, GS1 US
Read Melanie Nuce’s column, Blockchain: Separating Fact from Fiction

Final Thoughts from the Panel

“Nobody can really tell where this is going to go in the future. I think it’s going to be part of food safety in their roles in one shape or form…I think we’ll see more of where this is headed within the next 12–18 months.” – Kathy Wybourn

“I think it’s going to be a fast-moving dynamic area.”– Simon Batters, who suggested that the organizations that embrace blockchain early may be the ones who show the way

“From an information/standards perspective, you have to have foundational business processes to support any type of technology. That’s what we’ve learned through the pilots.” – Melanie Nuce

“It’s not going to make a company any more ethical… a lot of what we need already exists out there; blockchain is just a tool out there. I keep warning people that this is not the only solution.” – Darin Detwiler

Deirdre Schlunegger, Stop Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

Educate Consumers about Food Safety Technology

By Deirdre Schlunegger
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Deirdre Schlunegger, Stop Foodborne Illness

It seems the world has gone truly global. Whether it’s using your debit card instead of having to change currency, or having great translation capabilities at our fingertips thanks to sophisticated algorithms made available to everyone, or even being able to see and talk through one portable device with friends in Spain while texting with a friend in Japan on another! Global food safety is another area where tools and technology are constantly evolving to make our lives easier, better, and safer. In the United States, FSMA is addressing this phenomenon.

Almost daily, I find myself reading about new inventions and applications that promise to, not only safely deliver food from across the globe, but also accurately track the steps food takes to get to consumers. Yet, outbreaks, recalls, and traceability issues continue to occur. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) is but one of the technologies being applied to food safety while improving tracking capabilities and changing ideas about accountability.

At Stop Foodborne Illness, we encourage more public dialog to, and education among, consumers regarding advances in food safety technology, including traceability. Consumers need to know that although the struggle with outbreaks is still very real, there is continuous research and significant improvement being made in the effort to keep the food supply safe. I wonder sometimes if there should be a one-stop food safety technology website where consumers could go learn more about how food is grown, processed, transported, and tracked, while listing recent advances, and what is next to come in food safety technology.

We believe there is a great need for consumers to be educated about, and feel confident in, the security in their food supply. Being able to eat healthy food without the fear of illness is imperative. As advanced technology brings a reduction in foodborne outbreaks and recalls, trust will build and grow. It’s a circular process. Sharing what we know with the public advances food science and technology, instilling confidence along the way.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

5 Ways to Manage Risk in the Global Food Supply Chain

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

In 2017, the cost to import food, which has long been fairly predictable, rose by 6% over the previous year—and the number of possible risk factors has risen right alongside the higher price tag. There are several steps you can take to position yourself as an industry leader and manage risk simultaneously. First, though, it makes sense to better understand what’s at stake.

Why Take Steps to Reduce Risk?

Food has never been a more global market than it is today, and those who operate in the food supply chain are bound by the public’s trust in spoken and unspoken ways. Customers are used to taking for granted that they can walk into a supermarket and walk out with ethically sourced fish and eggs free from E. coli worries.

Not every food product is, or can be, a global one. However, some of these domestic risk factors scale up, just as our businesses do. When the food supply chain crosses borders of any kind, the familiar health and food safety risks are joined by several others:

  • Product mislabeling
  • Unplanned-for natural disasters
  • Spoilage due to any number of unforeseen circumstances
  • Damage while in transit
  • Unpredictable politics and shifts in regulations

A food company’s supply chain can be the weakest link in their food safety program. Learn more at the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | June 12–13 | Rockville, MDIn all honesty, no list will ever encompass the scope of the risk you take on as part of the global food supply chain. That’s not to say you can’t take steps to reduce your risk—sometimes several types of risk at once—as your operation grows. The following is a look at several practical suggestions, some of them more time-intensive and perhaps cost-prohibitive than others, but all worth a look as the world grapples with globalization in the food industry.

1. Don’t Take Company Culture or Employee Training for Granted

Working safely and conscientiously in a particular trade is not knowledge we’re born with. When you consider the fact that at some level every food product we bring into our homes was handled at one point by another human being, you get a sense of the role proper training and a healthy culture can play in the safety we expect of our food.

Among recently surveyed manufacturers in the global food space, 77% of them said globalization itself was a source of risk. It’s easy to see why. In 2015, a relatively small—though still deadly—Listeria outbreak was traced to just a few Blue Bell Ice Cream factories. The company was almost ruined by the three deaths, the illnesses and the nearly crushing reputational damage.

Some momentary lapse of judgment at one or perhaps two factories almost killed this company. Now scale this type of risk up to the global level and think about the possible worst-case scenarios.

We’ll talk more in a moment about ways to introduce transparency and traceability to the food supply chain, but this is a reminder of the stakes. Mindfulness and conscientiousness in the work we do— not to mention well-rested and satisfied workers—are just as vitally important to look after as profitability.

2. Use Predictive Sales Forecasts and Intelligent Logistics to Avoid Spoilage

Unnecessary food waste and spoilage emerged as a mainstream issue in recent years all across the globe. For example, citizens in the EU are forced to discard some 89 million tons of food each year due to overstocking, poor quality control and a lack of attention paid to consumer trends. The United States throws out 35 million tons of food for the same reasons—a problem that, billed collectively, carries a price tag of $165 billion each year in the United States alone.

The solution has arrived in the form of predictive analytics and more intelligent warehouse and inventory management systems. Domestic and global supply chain partners alike now have access to, in some cases, highly customizable software systems that can provide vital data, such as:

  • Ideal stock levels for perishable items
  • Constant checks on incoming versus outgoing products
  • Intelligent insights into customer behavior patterns and near-future buying patterns

These types of data are highly actionable. They don’t just shield you from monetary risks by cutting down on waste— they can also protect you from public health risks by ensuring spoiled products never make it as far as store shelves.

3. Take Your Packaging More Seriously

Many of us don’t give packaging a second thought. So long as it’s easy to get into, eye-catching and protects the product long enough for the consumer to get their hands on it, it’s good enough — right? Not quite. When manufacturers think about packaging as merely a branding matter rather than as a safety check, the price is sometimes human health and lives.

One obvious solution to make sure your products can travel as far as they need to is to invest in vacuum packaging, even for small-scale operations. Compressed air equipment is a highly affordable way to accomplish this. The USDA and CDC provide guidelines on modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) and controlled atmosphere packaging (CAP).

Packaging material requirements are a global concern as well as a domestic one. The EU provides guidelines for packaging materials that are detailed down to the type of ink used. Knowing about the laws in your sales territories and staying aware of new breakthroughs in material sciences can help you remain in compliance and ahead of the game.

In a global supply chain, high-quality packaging serves not just as a risk mitigator, but also as a possible value proposition for your customers. Having your brand stand out as an example of high-quality products in thoughtful, health-conscious packaging could put you in a unique position.

4. Stay Abreast of Changing Regulations

American politics might be volatile, but one thing that isn’t likely to change is that consumers tend to look toward institutions like the FDA to provide updated guidelines and to pursue strong, consumer-friendly legislation. That means compliance isn’t always a choice, but it also means you have the opportunity to anticipate change and mitigate risks faster than your peers.

A recent example is FSMA. It’s had a long rollout, with plenty of advance warning for the industries it touches, but now most of its rules have reached the implementation stage. This lead time has been advantageous given the scope of the anticipated laws because it’s given food processing companies time to prepare for compliance. In fact, globalization lies at the very heart of it.

FSMA will be challenging at times to enforce, but its ultimate goal is to hold domestic and foreign companies in the global food supply chain responsible for a common set of guidelines and best practices.

What does this mean? It means you have yet another opportunity to establish yourself as an industry leader. The intentions of FSMA are to make every part of the supply chain more agile and better able to respond to emerging health concerns and other sources of risk as they unfold.

5. Use Data to Build Greater Transparency

There has perhaps never been a more important time to take transparency seriously in the global food supply chain. As of this writing, a historically significant outbreak of E. coli among romaine lettuce products is closing in on an “all clear” from the CDC after two difficult months. By the time you read this article it’s entirely possible another outbreak of a different kind might be underway or that some product or another has found itself under a recall. The possibility of reputational damage is greater than ever.

The good news is, even when the unfortunate happens, it’s possible to greatly reduce risk to your brand and your customers’ health. However, you need the tools to help you move quickly in tracing the problem.

Some digital technologies of a more physical nature, such as QR codes or RFID chips, can elevate your supply chain transparency and tamp down risk even further by allowing far more granular traceability for your products as they move about. In some high-profile examples, we’re seeing this concept taken to a logical, if slightly extreme, endpoint: Edible QR codes on restaurant food that contain a full history of the meal’s constituent ingredients.

Even if you don’t take your own efforts this far, this level of traceability can help you react far more quickly to emerging situations such as recalls. You’ll be able to isolate shipments with greater ease and trace contaminated products back to their sources. Also, as The Guardian points out, this technology delivers ethical and perhaps legal peace of mind by assuring you that your partners are trading in ethically sourced goods.

Vigilance and Technology in the Food Industry

The stakes in the food industry are high, as we’ve seen. However, with the right combination of a cultural approach to safety, a mindfulness of changing regulations and the sensible application of technology so you can act on the data you’re gathering, you’ll be in a prime position for global success in this quickly changing field.

John Sammon, ParTech
FST Soapbox

The Role of Food Safety Culture in Regulation and Technology

By John Sammon III
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John Sammon, ParTech

Culture

The food safety challenges large food organizations face are often compounded by numerous factors, such as the number of different stakeholders (employees, suppliers, customers, etc.) disparate locations, changing menus and diverse operations.

Imagine a well-known quick service restaurant (QSR) chain with thousands of locations, whereby minimum age workers are on the front line of food preparation and sanitation. In these operations, the food safety culture and human behavior can potentially become compromised due to the complexity of the organization or attitudes of employees. The QSR is depending upon its managers to continuously train, monitor and record the proper food safety operations. Meanwhile, the global QSR brand depends upon a certain level of food quality and, of course, protection against a foodborne illness outbreak for its reputation and survival.

All food safety fundamentally revolves around individual human behavior. How behavior is managed, rewarded and recognized defines the culture. Commonly, human behavior is influenced and shaped by the surrounding social order. In order to develop a successful food safety culture, an operation must retain strong leadership, implement the standards of food safety processes from the top down, and invest in appropriate technology.

Regulation

The introduction of FSMA has brought both challenges and opportunities to the food safety industry. The requirement to document and record all daily HACCP operations and corrective actions of a food safety plan is one of them. Conceptually speaking, “you are only as good as your records say you are.” In this context, we are faced with both the challenge of maintaining a proactive and efficient food safety culture, coupled with the burden of increased regulation.

Typically, individual managers have responsibility for their locations and see to it that employees are following the safety plans via paper checklists. The plans themselves are printed paper logs attached to clipboards. Employees need to fill these logs out and update them continuously throughout the day. At the end of the day or week, the paper is collected, filed away and placed in storage. FSMA requires two years of this type of HACCP record keeping upon audit and, well, that’s a lot of paper, not to mention a labor-intensive process.

Technology

Employee behavior can be influenced, encouraged and monitored via tools such as mobile, cloud and sensor technologies. These solutions give large organizations greater visibility into their operations and increase the opportunities to train and coach employees on performance. Managers are free to concentrate on other issues, while employees complete food safety checks and build daily compliance records. Employees are prompted to follow safety plans, and technology can inform them of corrective actions and new requirements. Cloud technologies collect information in real-time and keep years of data, doing away with clipboards, pens and paper.

The growing adoption of technology is the fundamental turning point that can help drive human behavior and food safety culture in a positive direction. Fortunately, we live in the information age with modern means that allow for increased visibility and control. Technology can assist in the development and maintenance of larger food safety cultures.

Within the contemporary IoT (internet of things) environment, human behavior can be shaped by the resources available in today’s food safety tool box. Bi-directional wireless communications and digital record keeping merges and unites the individual into the larger collective culture. We are now seeing the advent of sensor technology as a “first wave” of prevention/ detection of environmental conditions that foster foodborne illness.

A Culture of Food Safety Technology

The future state of a business culture that pays attention to food quality and safety looks decidedly different than those of the past. Each day an employee logs into a store’s mobile device using their credentials. The cloud synchs with the device, the user is identified, and the daily checklists arrive. The employee is on the clock and she has her tasks and timelines for food and safety operations for the day. She is reminded of tasks that need completion and even scored on how well she performs. Managers have real-time visibility into her performance and are offered teachable moments for training and improvement. Managers, employees and stores are all held accountable.

Imagine temperature and humidity sensors in freezers, coolers, holding bins and storage areas. These sensors act as the first line of defense as they sample the environment on a minute-by-minute basis. The sensors send SMS / e-mail alerts to the appropriate stakeholder that something could be wrong. The employee receives the alert and is assigned the task/checklist/corrective options needed to respond. The information is recorded and synchronized in the cloud for reporting purposes. Follow up on checklists can be routed to other stakeholders through the cloud.

Human behavior will never be replaced when it comes to food safety, but it sure has gotten better, faster and easier with new technologies.

Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.
Retail Food Safety Forum

The Future of Food Service

By Jordan Anderson
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Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.

The food service industry has rapidly changed since Boulanger disputably opened up his doors to the first modern restaurant in Paris over 200 years ago. While soups, sandwiches and pasta dishes continue to be served, the ever-changing landscape of this industry continues to evolve and not only provide new dishes, but innovative practices to cultivate products and introduce technological advances that ultimately enhance the consumer experience.

Localization

In attempts to reduce waste and increase visibility, grocers are looking to localize their product assortments. Whether they garner these products from within their market or a predetermined radius, they can increase traceability best practices while appealing to local shoppers. An example of this would be regional grocery chains selling beer only from local breweries or vegetables from local farms.

In executing this strategy, grocers increase sales by appealing to local shoppers while reducing produce shrink due to shorter delivery times from farm to fork. While some may argue focusing on local offerings takes away focus from more profitable national brand names, keeping your local consumers’ best interests in mind ensures their happiness and strengthens their brand loyalty.

Healthier Foods

Healthy food and beverage options continue to drive demand in grocery stores. As clean eating and heart healthy diets become the responsible practice, grocers must increase their offerings surrounding this category. Companies such as H-E-B have introduced clear labeling to signify certain products were produced without high-fructose corn syrup, while others are removing junk food offerings from checkout lines.

One way grocers are making healthy foods more appealing is by reducing the price of fresh produce by implementing shorter delivery cycles. This strategy ensures food safety, the freshness of the products, and their aesthetic value on display shelves, too. While this makes them more appealing, it also reduces the risk of product spoilage and profit loss due to the perpetual freshness of the product coming in.

Digital Coupons

While paper coupons have been the industry norm for decades, more grocers are turning to digital offerings. Wegman’s recently introduced a mobile app that allows consumers to digitally clip coupons, look up recipes, and find where products are within their stores. With the popularity of mobile devices, this trend will continue to burgeon.

The switch to digital also helps grocers strategically place products and offerings to their customer base. They can optimize sales and marketing approaches this way while discovering patterns and trends in the buying cycle. This allows them to understand their customer base while simultaneously increasing sales.

The Future of Grocery

Like most people, I enjoy eating. However, unlike most people, I actually enjoy the grocery shopping process. Typically, I go hungry while envisioning the endless possibilities of what I could make for dinner. Of course, due to my hunger, I end up purchasing copious amounts of unnecessary items while overspending in an impressive and irresponsible manner.

Due to my rare affinity for grocery shopping, the current and future landscape of the grocery market is interesting to me. I know, pathetic, but we all must have our odd interests.

Walmart Scan & Go

Walmart has developed an app that allows buyers to skip the lines and enjoy a seamless shopping experience. The app allows buyers to scan their desired goods, while keeping a running total of the goods in their cart. Once done shopping, you simply click ‘pay’ and you can check out wherever you are standing. A Walmart employee must verify your receipt before leaving the store but that only takes a moment.

You may be asking yourself, “How do they know I scanned everything?” Well, the honor system comes into play here so just because you hate grocery shopping, don’t rip off the nice people of Walmart, no matter how rich you think they are.

The app is only available at three stores currently – but keep an eye out for a location near you!

Cart MRI

Scan & Go is great for convenience, but if you’re in even more of a rush then this technology is great. The product debuted at Euroshop this past year. This technology allows for buyers to simply push their cart through a device that scans everything within the cart. This technology adds up everything, allows you to pay, and you’re out the door. No more dealing with 10-minute waits or lane closures.

Additionally, the technology provides a touchscreen on the cart that informs you about your selected items, where other products are, and gives you suggestions that compliment your shopping experience.

Sip and Stroll

While the above technologies make the buying experience more convenient—how about something that allows customers to chill out?

As I stated before, most individuals hate grocery shopping. Nevertheless, what if you could have a beer or two while shopping?

Whole Foods first adopted this burgeoning trend. The company sought out on-premise liquor licenses so their patrons could enjoy a few drinks while they shop. This allows for a more relaxed shopping experience while also giving customers insight on different or new brands they may not be familiar with.

Plus, if we’re being honest, if the drinks are good enough… the customers may be more willing to splurge.

The Future of Convenience Stores

Ah, convenience stores, pleasantly reeking of greasy hotdogs, gasoline, and cigarette fumes from the miserable 17-year old cashier outside neglecting the line. That’s generally the perception, right?

Well, not anymore! Convenience stores are now becoming a popular destination for consumers everywhere.

C-stores are beginning to seek alternatives from the slimmer margins of gas and cigarettes. In 2016, the industry saw a 9.2% drop in fuel sales, however, in-store sales increased by 3.2%.

While electric cars and public transportation can explain the precipitous drop in fuel sales—the industry took note of the increased in-store sales. Discovering potential reasons why and how to sustain them.

As the general population becomes increasingly more health conscious, convenience stores are beginning to adapt. Trending now are plant-based protein bars, dried fruits and nuts, and upscale jerky.

“Protein is the new energy,” says Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for the National Association of Convenience Stores. The demand for grass-fed and cage-free offerings are increasing in demand. Leaving the industry to either adapt, or fall behind.

After protein inspired snacks, convenience stores are beginning to incorporate their own restaurant concepts within their stores. The Pride Stores, a small c-store chain in the greater Chicago area, hired a corporate chef and introduced two different concepts, one being taco themed. This allows for consumers to eat-in, spending more time in their stores, or carry out for their convenience.

If you haven’t noticed lately, more convenience stores are beginning to expand their offerings of beer. Craft beer and wine selections are becoming bountiful options within the aisles. The copious amount of microbreweries opening up nationwide has spiced up the masses taste buds and demand for these crafted beers has continued to steadily increase.

National and local brands allow consumers to enjoy their local favorites, or to discover a new personal favorite.

Vineyards have begun to spring up more than ever, too. While the west coast has long been notorious for their wine, the fad has begun to spread nationwide. Whether you want to try something from the west, or upstate, NY, convenience stores are now becoming a go-to for the moderate connoisseur.

Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs
FST Soapbox

The Future of Food Safety: A Q&A with Mars, Inc.

By Mahni Ghorashi
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Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs

Food safety professionals often work behind-the-scenes, developing the systems and processes that keep our food supply free of harm. While a vital job, it’s often thankless work—recognition only comes when there’s a recall or an outbreak.

And yet, the food safety industry is evolving rapidly. New threats are emerging, new technologies are being deployed, and new regulations are causing changes in our fundamental infrastructure. “Good enough” pathogen detection is no longer good enough. As a result of new pressures, the food safety lab is emerging as one of the most promising centers of innovation in the entire supply chain. It’s time that the people who are driving this wave of innovation and change receive the positive recognition for their work that they deserve.

That’s why we’re starting this Q&A series—to hear the success stories, the best practices, the hurdles and the achievements from the best in the industry. We will dive deep with the experts into some of the biggest challenges and opportunities our industry faces, focused particularly on new technology that is advancing the industry by leaps and bounds—from blockchain to NGS to machine learning. As this series evolves, we hope that readers will be informed and inspired by what the future holds.

For our first interview, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bob Baker, corporate food safety science and capability director at Mars, Inc.. Bob leads the corporate food safety science strategy for Mars, Incorporated and provides leadership and consultation on food safety capability development and current and future challenges impacting global food security. Prior to his current role, Bob was responsible for the design, construction and leadership of the Mars Global Food Safety Center in Beijing, China.

Mahni Ghorashi: What are the biggest risks to our food safety infrastructure in 2018? What’s keeping you up at night?

Bob Baker: Food safety risks are increasing at an unprecedented rate, with new threats and hazards constantly emerging, changes in agricultural practices and food production, and the environment. The globalization of trade means that an issue in one part of the world often impacts the global supply chain.

To ensure safer food for all, the identification and isolation of potential and developing issues needs to happen at a much faster pace. At Mars, we believe industry has a crucial role to play in helping all stakeholders in the food supply chain identify risks and solutions, but no entity can do this alone. That’s why we have advocated for a new approach to food safety, one rooted in knowledge sharing and collaboration. That’s why we launched our Global Food Safety Center (GFSC) in 2015.

GFSC is conducting original research and collaborating in a number of areas that we see as critical—mycotoxin management, rapid detection and identification of pathogens, raw material and product authenticity, operational food safety optimization and transforming food safety through data integration.

Although we see improvements in some areas, some of them are becoming more complex. Mycotoxins are a prime example of that. Food fraud is another area of growing concern, and addressing that is going to take a focus on technology, regulation and enforcement and a number of other areas to deliver transparency, to verify sourcing, and ultimately ensure that customers and consumers are purchasing and consuming safe food.

Ghorashi: What are you most excited about? What’s changing in a good way in the food safety sector?

Baker: What’s encouraging is we’re seeing is a willingness to share information. At Mars we often bring together world experts from across the globe to focus on food safety challenges. We continue to see great levels of knowledge sharing and collaboration.

There are also new tools and new technologies being developed and applied. Something we’re excited about is a trial of portable ‘in-field’ DNA sequencing technology on one of our production lines in China. This is an approach that could, with automated sampling, reduce test times.

We’re also excited about the IBM-Mars Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain—early signs have been very encouraging. This is an approach that could change the nature of food safety management, taking us from testing for a specific pathogen, to a situation where we could map the entire makeup of an environment and predict food safety issues based on changes within that environment.

Ghorashi: If you take a look at the homepage of any of the food safety trade publications, all you see is recall after recall. Are transparency and technological advancement bringing more risks to light, and are things generally trending towards improvement?

Baker: At Mars, quality is our first principle and we take it seriously—if we believe that a recall needs to be made in order to ensure the safety of our consumers then we will do it. We also share lessons from recalls across our business to ensure that we learn from every experience.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a safe place for businesses to share such insights with each other. So although we are seeing more collaboration in the field of food safety generally, critical knowledge and experience from recalls is not being shared more broadly which may be having an impact.

Regarding the role of technological advancement, the hope is that as better tools and more advanced technology become available, it will be easier to pinpoint issues in the food supply chain much more effectively and much earlier than before which can only be a good thing.

Ghorashi: Do you see 2018 as the year when NGS technologies will find widespread adoption for food-safety testing applications? What can government and industry do to help accelerate adoption?

Baker: Next-generation sequencing has a lot of potential, but it may take time to be adopted fully.

We are very pleased to see the U.S. government continue to view food safety as a priority. The FDA and the CDC are already moving from single-cell cultures and single genes to mixed genomics and metagenomics. At Mars, we see metagenomics as the future of food safety because it may help identify sentinels of food safety and predict potential issues through microbiome shifts.

The key to the development and adoption of any successful technology is sharing knowledge so that all parties from the government, industry and NGOs can build on it. Early results from the IBM-Mars Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain have been encouraging and we are actively sharing these initial insights via publications and scientific forums.

Ghorashi: What are some new technology processes on the horizon for 2018, and where should industry and government be investing its time and resources?

Baker: Food safety challenges are increasing, and we need to collaborate and share insights if we are to ensure safe food.

One major area is informatics and how we can enable better application of data mining, more applied bioinformatics and statistics. How can key players –regulators, industry, NGOs—get together and share data? How do you better mine data to move to a predictive model? This is an area that could benefit from a more focused approach between government and industry.

Ghorashi: What is your #1 goal for the industry in 2018? Fewer recalls? New tech implementation? Better regulatory oversight?

Baker: We’d like to see progress in all of the above, and we will continue to work with a range of stakeholders to move the needle on food safety.

That said, the food safety challenges facing us all are complex and evolving. Water and environmental contaminants are areas that industry and regulators are also looking at, but all of these challenges will take time to address. It’s about capturing and ensuring visibility to the right insights and prioritizing key challenges that we can tackle together through collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.
FST Soapbox

Advocate for Change to Establish a Food Safety Culture

By Jordan Anderson
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Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.

Many times food companies will simply say, “We have to change our culture” or “We’ve always done things this way”, but this attitude will not remedy potential outbreaks or help develop food safety protocols.

As author and businessman Andy Grove once said, “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” This statement could not apply more to the food service and manufacturing industry.

The first step to change is convincing your organization from the top down to buy in; getting your executive team to accept the cultural change from manual paper-based approaches to digital food safety is paramount.

Common objections will be the investment and positive record of accomplishment. Taking a proactive and preventative approach to everyday food safety compliance will have a positive ROI over time while ensuring the utmost brand protection.

Presenting the potential damages of being linked to a foodborne outbreak is a great place to start. It typically will open the eyes and slightly intimidate each audience member. After all, executives and board members do not like to hear “profit loss”, “stock plunge”, and “tainted brand image”.

While this can all seem overwhelming, it does not have to be. Preparing a strategy and evaluating the processes needed to fulfill this goal will help alleviate the red tape to get this off the ground.

However, before we prepare a strategy, it is important to understand the basic premise behind food safety and how technology can enhance it.

In essence, food safety fundamentally revolves around individual human behavior. Human behavior in turn, is largely driven by culture. In order to successfully develop a food safety culture, an operation must possess impeccable leadership and incorporate the highest standards of food safety.

Most notably, the HACCP plan and individual processes created are a reflection of the human behavior that shapes and molds the culture of an organization. In large organizations, the challenges are often compounded by an increased number of locations and stakeholders (employees, suppliers, customers, etc.) Within these operations, food safety culture and human behavior can potentially become compromised due to the nature of the organization, or attitude and work ethic of the stakeholders.

Technology can assist in the development and maintenance of larger food safety cultures through the use of extensive and dynamic procedures. Human behavior can be shaped by the resources available in today’s food safety tool box. We can now overcome the arduous “pencil whipping” of safety checklists via handheld, wireless and cloud-based technologies. Such technologies are ubiquitous today in the form of apps downloaded from the internet, cell phones, reporting platforms and omnipresent communications.

History has shown that in challenged cultures, individuals often behave as though they are not a part of the whole, and operate as one, rather than as a team that is linked together under one vision and shared effort. However, during the processing, handling and storage of food, we need all stakeholders to act as a collective operation and function as one. The growing adoption of technology is the fundamental turning point that can help drive human behavior and food safety culture in a positive direction.

The introduction of FSMA has brought both challenges and opportunities to the food safety industry—the requirement to document and record actions of a larger food safety plan is one of them. Conceptually speaking, you are only as good as your records say you are. In this context, we are faced with both the challenge of maintaining a positive and efficient food safety culture, in addition to the burden of increased regulatory compliance.

However, FSMA and the innovative technological era have guided the industry to a crossroads of sorts. I suggest embracing the FSMA mentality and implementing food safety technology into your operations. This will not only protect and preserve your organization, but perhaps more importantly, it will define your food safety culture, and implement a positive change into your brand.

Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies
FST Soapbox

Automation Is Happening—Don’t Miss The Boat

By Steven Burton
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Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies

Successful businesses move fast. They stay ahead of their competition by keeping their eye on the newest and most innovative emerging technologies. Failure to embrace the newest, fastest means of production and communication allows other businesses to muscle ahead of slow-to-change competitors, especially in the food industry. This is why embracing automation—even if it requires a commitment from you and your whole organization — is absolutely necessary for every food company.

Guarantee Growth and Compliance with the Internet of Things

The innovation at the forefront of automation technology is the Internet of Things (IoT): Multiple devices interconnected to monitor, communicate and control in real time. Today, a farmer can monitor a crop located in Australia from North America. Ingredients from anywhere in the world can be brought together in a matter of days and distributed just as quickly. Agricultural robots that reduce the risk of contamination and food safety expectations have risen as a result. As exciting as it is to be a part of a constantly innovating food industry, it’s also becoming more challenging to keep up and adapt.

It’s also becoming more necessary. Regulatory agencies are working to keep pace with technological innovations. The standards of food safety—more global than ever—have grown in complexity and will continue to grow as improved, real-time monitoring of products and facilities extends into every type and size of food production company. Properly planned and applied food safety programs are vital to ensuring that globally sourced ingredients and production facilities adhere to regulations to avoid the consequences of failed audits and expensive recalls.

Even for those on top of their regulatory requirements, IoT and other automation technologies are friends, not foes. Automation means that preparation for audits and inspections is reduced to bare minimum, eliminating the need for binders, spreadsheets and months of prep work. Furthermore, one of the greatest challenges of today’s food chain is ensuring not only your own compliance, but the compliance of your vendors. Dealing with hundreds or thousands of incoming ingredients and other materials at any given time is a massive undertaking, let alone dealing with vendor certifications. Integrated, automated systems for food production management streamlines processes and communication and reduces the risk of error and recall throughout the supply chain.

Don’t Be Paralyzed by the F-word: Fear

It is clear to see that staying competitive and staying in business in an interconnected world is possible only if the newest technology is embraced. Why are some companies reluctant to adapt, even when they know it is crucial to a successful future?

Some fear that their managers and employees may not adapt, that their functioning programs already in place may be interrupted, and that ever-present fear of a price tag.

To alleviate these fears and embrace the power of the future, it is vital that the company’s new automation and IoT utilize a software that is:

  • User-friendly so that employees, new or existing, can hit the ground running
  • Capable of building upon an existing food safety program and continue its success
  • Able to improve existing food safety programs to ensure updated compliance
  • Cost-effective and a good business decision when compared to the cost of manpower and recalls

One of the most common reasons a company chooses not to implement a new technology concerns the last point: Cost. To maximize the benefit of automation and IoT, expenses like laptops, tablets and phones are advisable in addition to software. The cost of the software itself when there is a paper or spreadsheet system that is working may seem unnecessary—after all, why buy a telephone when the telegrams are working just fine? In the high-speed world we now live in, a low-speed business approach is fatal.

There is good news when it comes to automation adoption: In response to the growing need for technology and the reluctance of companies to take on the expense, new incentives are being put in place in order support businesses and keep a country’s economy competitive. For example, the U.S. Tax Cuts and Job Act of 2017 allow write-offs of new automation technology in the first year of purchase, vastly reducing the initial cost impact of implementing automation technologies. Many state and provincial governments provide grants for updating technology to improve safety and traceability.

Automation Will Feed the World

Technology and automation in agriculture and food production make a company competitive, but it is also an unavoidable requirement going forward. Looking at the big picture, it’s also necessary to meet the demands of a booming global population. Food is, in many ways, the most essential industry to human life.

In The Future of Food: Food Production, Innovation, and Technology, authors David B. Schmidt and Kimberly Reed say it clearly:

“Each U.S. farmer feeds more people worldwide than ever before, at 155 people per farmer. In 1960, that number was 25.8 people. By 2050, the same farmer will need to feed 232 people… With finite resources, it will take innovation and a variety of technologies to meet the world’s food demand. This includes using new technologies. At every step of the journey from farm to fork, technology is helping us produce a safe, abundant, sustainable, and nutritious food supply.”

It took centuries for the writing of letters to be replaced by telegrams. It took only 130 years from the invention of telegrams to the use of email. A farmer with a shovel is now a robot, with the agricultural robot market expected to increase by more than fivefold to $12.8 billion over six years. 94% of packaging operations use robotic technology today. A recent survey found that half of food companies interviewed plan to increase their use of automation in the next two years.

Where will food production be in 2020? And where will your company be in that near future?